A State of (Dis)Union

To the incredulity of some, there was a pervading call for unity in President Trump’s first joint address to Congress. Trump proposed furthering a bipartisan agenda with talks of immigration reform and a new infrastructure bill. Within Congress, Trump stated that Republicans and Democrats should “join forces and finally get the job done,” because, ultimately, they “should get together and unite for the good of our country, and for the good of the American people.” The morning after, Republicans littered the networks with adulation, thereby solidifying their support for the President. Democrats, conversely, were left confused, skeptical, and thinking, “President Trump is calling for unity? Really?”

While the 24 hour news cycle circulated stories of Trump’s newfound “optimism” and “presidential” behavior, the State of the Union should not be misconstrued as a call for unity, but rather a way to gain positive media attention after continuous backlash and low approval ratings. Trump is the antagonist in the narrative of American polarization. While he advocates for an over idealistic caricature of Democratic and Republican unity, Trump is the leader of labeling the Democrats as the “losers” and the “opposition party.” Without question, Democrats were right to leave the joint address with an air of  skepticism rather than with the Republican’s blind level of trust; after all, it only took Trump one day to switch his narrative.

With just the week following his address as the lens in which to analyze the President’s call for unity, Trump stayed positive for about 24 hours, which to his credit is a new record. Since the State of the Union, Trump has tweeted 22 times, with 16 malicious tweets directed at starting a conspiracy theory on wiretapping, investigations into Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi ties to Russians, and even a negative tweet about Arnold Schwarzenegger. Just like during the election, Trump’s temperament has always been, and rightfully so, on trial.

Clearly, this President will not be remembered as a great unifier (unless it’s self proclaimed, of course). Among many issues that contribute to the polarization in Congress, the chief concern among Democrats is Trump’s possible ties to Russia. Within 24 hours, the news cycle switched from Trump’s “Presidential” speech to Democrats calling for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from the investigation into Russia. And rightfully so, as Trump’s mysterious ties to Russia continue to be the albatross around the neck of this Administration. Attorney General Jeff Sessions meetings with the Russian Ambassador, despite his comments during his confirmation hearing, just added to the speculation of how sound our White House really is.

With pressure from the media, the Democratic Party, and some members of the Republican Party, Jeff Sessions chose to recuse himself from the investigation. Trump was quick to tweet that Session’s is “an honest man,” while the Democrats are “saving face” and “overplaying their hand.” Just two days before, Trump said, “we must build bridges of cooperation and trust –- not drive the wedge of disunity and really what it is, it is pure unadulterated division. We have to unify.” With each rambling tweet sent, the call for unity moves farther and farther into the abyss.

Unfortunately, the next four years are likely to be a continuation of heightened polarization both within the United States and Congress. In Trump’s future speeches to Congress, he will likely talk of false promises of a bipartisan agenda, but will never truly depart from the plutocratic traditional Republican agenda. With four more years of false promises, the American population will have to learn to be an active protester rather than a passive observer. Because while some Americans argued that President Trump’s ability to refine his temperament within his speech showed signs of “presidential” behavior, it is imperative that we define “presidential” or completely demolish the traditional meaning. President Trump is not the unifier of the American people, rather he is the spokesman of Big business and Republican donors (also known as his cabinet). Even if Trump’s speech was more disciplined, it is important to remember Trump is the personification of the wall that continues to divide the American people. This is a state of disunion and, despite his call for unity, he will sow more discord between people, party, and country.

About the Author

Erin Clifford
Erin Clifford (FCLC ‘19) is a political science major at Fordham University Lincoln Center. She is currently working as a Production intern at MSNBC and worked as a political consultant back in Los Angeles. As a columnist for FPR, she enjoys writing about the hybridized relationship between media and politics as well as presidential politics. Contact Erin at eclifford3@fordham.edu